10 Steps to Jump-Start an Online Teaching Business

Chances are you’re good at something, maybe even an expert. Now there’s a way to monetize that skill: Teach others online. There are a number of websites that offer people the chance to teach classes via video and get paid for it.

The premise is fairly simple: Shoot a video of yourself teaching a class about whatever topic you like. Upload it to one of the sites, and let people all over the world pay you for the chance to learn what you know. Then sit back while the cash rolls in.

Sites structure themselves differently — some require an upfront fee while others don’t. Pretty much all of them take a cut of the tuition — and be warned, companies can change their terms of service with little warning. In 2013, a popular site, Udemy, lowered the percentage of the fee paid to the instructor, upsetting some of them.

But for some people, such videos can be a cash cow. Some websites report their most successful instructors can pull in six figures. However, once the video is live, you don’t need to do much more — probably you should put some effort into marketing, but you don’t have to — meaning it can be a source of mostly passive income.

Here are 10 steps to help you get started:

1. Choose your topic

Obviously, you should teach something you know a lot about, but it should also be something you genuinely enjoy doing — your enthusiasm will come through in the work you do. The most successful classes (as measured by the number of times viewed) usually involve computers: either how to use software or how to write computer code. But if that’s not your bag, don’t worry. The array of classes is simply mind-boggling: Pastry making, street fighting, yoga, solving a Rubik’s cube, chess tactics, Latin … Take a look at Udemy, one of the best known sites that hosts classes, to get an idea of what’s out there and how and what you want to teach.

2. Choose your platform

There are a number of different sites that host online classes. In addition to Udemy, which was founded in 2009, Skillshare, WizIQ and Alison allow people to teach classes about nearly any topic under the sun. Google also offers a course builder, with loads of tools for developing your class.

The different platforms use different business models, from paying you per student to giving you a share of ad revenue, so decide which model works best for you. Google’s in particular might be tricky in this regard. The default is for their classes to be free. If you want to charge people, you’ll need to handle the payments yourself and only allow people who’ve paid you access to course materials. It means more work for you, but then you don’t need to share the money with anyone.

The different platforms have different requirements for what teachers do and how they do it. So, it’s best to decide where you want to post your lesson upfront so you can develop one that fits with the site’s guidelines.

3. Write your script

Don’t just get on camera and wing it, write down what you want to say. Read it over a few times to make sure you haven’t left anything out. Try the old trick of reading it to yourself in the mirror so you can work out some of the kinks.

4. Get some feedback

Before you actually start recording, have others weigh in on what you’ve developed so far. Find another expert to fact-check what you wrote. Find a test audience to make sure that they are actually learning what you are teaching. Once you have a viable, vetted script, move on to making the video.

5. Get the right gear

Many, if not most computers come with a camera and microphone, so you probably have what you need for recording the video already. If not, well, you will have to make the investment. Remember to keep those receipts — this is a business, and you can probably deduct the cost of the gear from any profits you make. Check with your tax adviser to be sure. To find a good deal, check out some online reviews, then head to bargain sites like:




You’ll also want some video editing software, so you can polish up the final product. People aren’t expecting Hollywood-level production values, but a slapdash presentation could irritate your viewers or make it difficult for them to follow. And that will affect whether they recommend you to others.

6. Consider your space

Make sure you think about what’s behind you wherever you plan to record your video. Go for a solid, neutral background, which will be less distracting. Don’t do it in front of a window; you never know what could walk by outside, and it may throw off your lighting.

7. Find (another) test audience

After you shoot and edit your video, get another opinion. You probably don’t have the resources to put together a full-blown focus group, but you probably do have a person or two who can review your course and tell you what they think. Even if they’re not the expert you are, they should be able to let you know if portions aren’t clear, or if your voice slips into a boring monotone. After you make the needed tweaks, upload it.

For more tips on getting a polished delivery on video, check out “How to Shine in a Video Interview.” Many of the same concepts apply here.

8. Set your price

Like any business, you’ll want to be competitive. See what others are charging for similar classes, and try to understand where you fit in. People will pay a premium if your class is substantively better, but you’re going to need to earn the credibility that lets you charge more.

9. Marketing

Just because you built it doesn’t mean they will come. You need to find ways to market your course so it stands out above others on the same topic. Many websites take a higher percentage of the tuition if they bring in a student, so it’s money in your pocket if you bring them in yourself. Contact friends and colleagues, let people know on Facebook or other social media platforms, and encourage your networks to spread the word. Consider setting up an internet presence for your teaching business, so you can send out news about updates to your students.

10. Make another one

If people like your first class, keep making them. The more you have up, the more chances there are for people to (pay for the chance to) learn from you. Plus, now you have a customer base eager for the next installment.

Do you have a skill or interest that you could teach online? Share with us in comments or on our Facebook page.

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